Jessa Bellamy is the adopted daughter of a rich man, but an incident in her past made her change her name and take on a different identity. Now, she has her own company where she and her employees probe the backgrounds of prospective employees for different companies. But whereas most rely on background checks, fingerprints and other high-tech devices to probe the prospective employees, Jessa Bellamy relies on a simple handshake.
A handshake, because when she touches someone's skin, she can see their worst moments play out in her mind, and she can tell if they are honest or dishonest. And sometimes, she can read the minds of someone that the person she is touching has had physical contact with.
What she sees in the latest woman she is checking out makes her very concerned. First of all, the woman is only applying to steal from the company. But she is working for a man, her lover, who is only using her. Once she has done the theft, he is going to kill her, then abscond with her ill-gotten gains. Jessa, knowing that she must do something, informs the FBI about her suspicions from a pay phone far from her office, but this time, she is not alone. Someone is following her.
That "someone" is Gaven Matthias, and he wants to save Jessa from a company called GenHance, a company who supposedly is all about finding cures for genetic diseases, but in reality is about finding a way to create perfect soldiers for anyone who can pay for them. They have found out about Jessa's talent, and want to extract her means of doing it from her DNA- and to do so, they will have to kill her. Gaven's seen it happen before, and he doesn't want it to happen to Jessa- because he's started to fall for her.
When Jessa is contacted by GenHance to do background checks on their employees for a new subsidiary of GenHance being built in the area, she immediately agrees, and a meeting is set for her at a French Restaurant named Cecile with a man named Dennis Lawson. Lawson plans to drug her and take her out during the meal, but before he can do so, Gaven rushes in, to find that she has been faking being drugged. She shoves her entree in Lawson's face and Gaven cuts him badly before they escape outside.
There, Gaven tells her that she must come with him before she is killed, and she reluctantly accompanies him. In his car, she attempts to use her power on Gaven to see what kind of man he is, but only gets an image of an avalanche and a snowstorm, which confuses her and puts her to sleep.
When she wakes, she is in Gaven's secret underground lair, along with his associate, Rowan, a peppery-tongued cook who takes an instant dislike to Jessa, calling her "Queenie". As Jessa fights her attraction to the man who kidnapped her, she discovers that many of the things he is telling her are true.
But back at GenHance, Dennis Lawson, terribly injured by Gaven's attack, is putting all the blame for it on Jessa, thinking she paid Gaven to attack him. Already out of his mind on Steroids and cocaine, injections he's been getting from his personal trainer, he's upset that the doctor's won't give him painkillers for the excruciating pain of his injuries, and resolves to go to GenHance and get the only thing that can heal him- the very serum that GenHance has been building from the members of the Takyn.
He lies and tricks his way back into the company, and injects himself with the serum, killing anyone who tries to stop him or who gets in his way. And it works on his injuries, but ramps up his anger at Jessa and need for revenge- as well as enabling him to track her. But his rampage hasn't gone unnoticed, and two of the Darkyn, Lucan and his sygkenis, Samantha, a cop, become determined to track down Dennis Lawson and find out where he got the powers he now has- powers that seem to be growing, changing and mutating all the time. But can even the Darkyn and Gaven keep Jessa safe from the man who so obviously wants to kill her?
I enjoyed Lynn Viehl's Stardoc series, and her Darkyn series, and this series is an offshoot of the second. The Kyndred, also known as the Takyn or Taken, were an experiment by the church to induce Darkyn-like powers in children. But the experiment was shut down, and the children dispersed into foster homes and adopted families. The Darkyn have been trying to track them, but too many of the records were destroyed.
This book does a good job at setting up the Kyndred's new adversary, the GenHance company and its owner, Jonah Gennaro, who is the last living descendant of the man who originally killed Gaven, who was a Roman soldier. Hints are dropped throughout the story that Jonah is attempting to keep his Ancestor's name unstained. So, anyone who discovers anything to his discredit is killed, and the information destroyed or discredited, all the while a team from his company is sent in to help clean up the damage.
The message is rammed through over and over that the people who work at the company, especially those in the higher executive levels of management, and the scientists are evil: people who don't give a damn about the source of the products they are testing so long as they work and make money. When Gennaro procures a brain dead man (a Takyn) to be a subject for the experiments with Transserum, nobody else seems to bat an eye. The only exception to this is a man named Alex, who actually works for Gaven, a deep mole planted inside the company. And in the end, he is forced to flee.
At the end, the Darkyn and Kyndred come very close to meeting, but don't quite, which is a shame, since the Darkyn have been seeking these children for a while now. But, of course, it also stretches out the story and the forces that the Kyndred must fight against.
I enjoyed this book, the villains were extremely villainous, even if that villainy rose out of reasons of making money and just not caring about anyone they hurt on the way to making that money. The character of Dennis Lawson is downright frightening, even before he injects himself with Transserum. His madness and sadism were actually disturbing to read, and made him a perfect villain. The love/attraction between Gaven and Jessa actually faded into the background compared to his insanity, but I'd still recommend this book in a heartbeat.